Different visions dominate school safety debate
Wednesday, January 09, 2019
The school safety debate picked up steam almost one year ago on Valentine’s Day 2018. That day, a former student walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, school and fired on students and staff, killing 17 and injuring 17 more. This debate is ongoing and presents many possible solutions from diverse sectors.
Lessons from Parkland are numerous. A recently released 400-page report details that many factors blended together to result in such a tragic outcome. Controversially, this report recommends that teachers and staff use Florida’s Guardian Program, allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons to protect students in the event of a mass shooting or similar threat.
The report states: “School districts and charter schools should permit the most expansive use of the Guardian Program under existing law to allow personnel — who volunteer, are properly selected, thoroughly screened and extensively trained — to carry concealed firearms on campuses for self-protection and the protection of other staff and students.”
The idea of arming teachers is hotly debated. Many have spoken out against the concept because of the undue burden and expectations it places on teachers, the bureaucratic red tape involved in training staff in firearms use, and the radical redefinition of the teaching occupation that’s involved once guns are introduced into classrooms.
These concerns have not stopped the Trump administration and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from giving a “quiet nod” to the concept. Instead of blatantly pushing the idea, they are softly endorsing the concept by encouraging schools to do what has worked best for them in the past.
Some criticize the federal position as a tacit endorsement for arming teachers.
One other solution is the use of school resource officers (SROs) — armed staff specially placed on campuses for security purposes.
This concept, also, has grown quite controversial. Recently, six Portland, Oregon, public schools protested against the city’s idea of paying for full-time SROs. For 20 years, Portland schools have not included this staff function in their budgets.
The question how to fund the training of teachers and SROs is another important aspect of this debate.
Students have also expressed concerns that school police officers will create a heightened sense of fear and anxiety on campuses. And there’s growing research to corroborate this position. Increased discipline problems, and increased teacher aggression toward students are cited as potential risks here.
Aside from guns at schools, what other actions can promote practical and safe school environments?
This week, beginning Jan. 10, teachers from the second largest U.S. public school district, Los Angeles, are planning to strike. Striking teacher demands, like smaller class sizes and funding for essential nurse and counseling staff, hint at another direction in the school security debate.
Is it possible that some of the bread-and-butter education issues, presented this week by United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), point us to a more comprehensive safety plan than any commission report endorsing the brandishing of firearms in classrooms, hallways, and classrooms filled with young people?
More staff performing essential occupations also produces another security function. Essential staff know the campus, staff, and students — and can act as more eyes and ears on the ground if school is approached by a shooter.
In the event of a serious emergency where avoidance of a shooter or evacuation of a classroom, smaller class sizes can’t hurt. There’s already mounting evidence that smaller class sizes boost student learning and teacher work conditions, but it also may be a practical way to ensure teachers can act to protect students in their custody if necessary.
All of this is not to suggest that there is one solution to fit the vast range of education institutions and facilities involved in this debate. But it does suggest that the voices of teachers, who spend most of their days educating and protecting young people, can play a central role in decisions about school safety.
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